Saturday, January 7, 2012

Betty Jo Bouvier Takes Me On The Last Cab Ride I'll Never Forget

Last night, for the first time since the Great Recession, I watched what I think is the best movie made about the Great Depression, that being The Grapes of Wrath.

The Grapes of Wrath is the movie version of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath novel. It is the best movie adaptation of a book that I have ever read and seen.

Watching The Grapes of Wrath always gets to me.

There is one scene where Ma Joad is deciding what to take from their home in the Dust Bowl to California. At one point Ma Joad picks up a souvenir from the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

The wistful, melancholy look that glows from Ma Joad's face as she looks at that souvenir, as she thinks back to a better time, a fun time, decades earlier, well that melancholy look on Ma Joad's face had me being a melancholy baby.

I was still being a melancholy baby when I got email from Betty Jo Bouvier this morning. That email contained the story of a cab driver and a passenger. Reading that story had me feeling even more melancholy. I Googled "cab ride old lady" to find that this story has been around awhile, with various titles. The version Betty Jo sent me is titled "The Last Cab Ride." On a website called Zen Moments the story is called "The Cab Ride I'll Never Forget."

Below is the version of the story Betty Jo sent me. Be warned. Reading this may temporarily turn you into a melancholy baby....

The Last Cab Ride 

I arrived at the address and honked the horn.  After waiting a few minutes I honked again. Since this was going to be my last ride of my shift I thought about just driving away, but instead I put the car in park and walked up to the door and knocked.. 'Just a minute', answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor.

After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90's stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940's movie.

By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets.

There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

'Would you carry my bag out to the car?' she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman.

She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb.

She kept thanking me for my kindness. 'It's nothing', I told her. 'I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated.'

'Oh, you're such a good boy, she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address and then asked, 'Could you drive through downtown?'

'It's not the shortest way,' I answered quickly.

'Oh, I don't mind,' she said. 'I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice.

I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. 'I don't have any family left,' she continued in a soft voice.. 'The doctor says I don't have very long.' I quietly reached over and shut off the meter.

'What route would you like me to take?' I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator.

We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.

Sometimes she'd ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, 'I'm tired. Let's go now'.

We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico.

Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

'How much do I owe you?' She asked, reaching into her purse.

'Nothing,' I said

'You have to make a living,' she answered.

'There are other passengers,' I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly.

'You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,' she said.'Thank you.'

I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life..

I didn't pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift?  What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don't think that I have done anything more important in my life.

We're conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments.

But great moments often catch us unaware - beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.


At the bottom of this great story was a request to forward this - I deleted that request because if you have read to this point, you won't have to be asked to pass it along you just will.

Thank you, my friend.

Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we might as well dance....

No comments: